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3 bad radiators in 2 years?

I have a 2004 Suzuki Aerio that was passed on to me by my dad in spring 2007. He drove it from Indiana to Denver, and later that year, I drove it from Denver to San Francisco where I live now.

In January 2008, my temp light went on. A local chain shop diagnosed a leaky radiator, and replaced it along with the thermostat and cap, and a flush-and-fill.

About 12,000 miles later, in November 2008, the temp light came on again. Same diagnosis: leaky radiator. Even though the part only had a 90-day warranty, the chain shop pulled some strings and got me the part for free, and we split the labor 50/50.

In May 2009, the temp light came on during a short trip, but there was plenty of coolant in the reservoir unlike the previous times. Got towed to a local shop I trust, who diagnosed a bad thermostat. We replaced it.

Now just after Thanksgiving, and coincidentally another 12,000 miles past radiator #2, temp light is going on again. Reservoir is dry. Went back to the chain shop, who did a pressure test, and diagnosed another leak. This is 3 leaky radiators in 2 years, on a car that’s only 6 years old with 67,000 miles on it. And I don’t live in an area that salts roads in the winter.

What gives? The chain shop says they can’t eat the cost of another radiator. They said they looked at the mounts to see if anything was rubbing against it to create the leak, but saw nothing. All I know is that I’m about to be out another $400 or so (still need to call my local shop for their estimate, since the chain shop isn’t going to help me out on the replacement this time.)

What gives? The “chain shop” is the problem.

Stop fooling around with chain shops. Take the car to the local independent shop you trust and let them fix it this time.

NEVER go to chain shops for maintenance or repairs.

I don’t know if it makes a difference for Suzuki, but I had a similar problem with a Toyota. It was with the water pump. After replacing two new aftermarket pumps, I put a third, new Toyota pump on the car and it’s been running fine every since.

You might want to check and see if the radiators were factory or aftermarket. If they were the latter, try a factory and see if it lasts longer. I have been told that import cars “do not like” aftermarket parts.

I would suspect the quality of the radiators being installed. Next suspect is antifreeze that is not compatible with the radiator. I once lost a new name-brand radiator fail in a BMW after only two years, and the problem appeared to be incompatible antifreeze that attacked the seal between the aluminum core and the plastic end-caps. Since then, I bite the bullet and pay $$$ for BMW branded antifreeze. No more problems.

Radiators don’t normally fail very often if you refrain from punching holes in them. Maybe once every ten years on average. Moreover, they don’t have any moving parts, so there isn’t all that much that you or the shop can do to break them. By all means, have a different shop do the work. They’ll likely do everything a little different from the chain shop, and most likely one of the things they do different will ensure that the next radiator outlasts the rest of the car.

Did the chain shop tell you where the other radiators failed – e.g. seal, crack in plastic cover, corrosion in the metal parts? Be sure and get the next shop to run a pressure test before they replace the radiator and tell you where it is leaking. That information will help you figure out what is going on if you continue to have radiator problems.

When the replacement radiator is installed, have the shop check the mounting points for the radiator to make sure they aren’t out of alignment or missing their insulators. If the mounting points are out of alignment when the radiator is mounted it puts the radiator under a stress or a bind. Then after numerous heating/cooling cycles the radiator is stressed where it starts to leak. If any insulators are missing it will cause the radiator to rub on a point wearing a hole in the radiator.


In my defense, I went there originally because I was newish in town and didn’t have a local I trusted. With a suddenly-malfunctioning radiator and a commute to manage, I didn’t have time to shop. I went back subsequently because I felt they should take some part of the cost, which they did on time #2 but apparently not this time.

I am calling two locals today.

I was told “we get our radiators from the same place 99% of shops get them, 1-800-RADIATOR.” No idea if that’s true or not. I’m going to ask some locals what they use.

Not a lot of Suzuki-branded antifreeze on the market, I’m afraid. I usually use Prestone.

Chain shop didn’t specify where the previous leaks were (and remember, leak #1 was in the factory radiator as far as I know). This one they said was “up inside” somewhere that they couldn’t visualize during the pressure test.

The hitch in your suggestion is that I dropped in a tube of radiator fix to get me through the week until I have time to take it to a shop, so a new test may not show where the leak is either. :-/

The chain shop manager said he looked at all the mounting points for exactly this concern and didn’t see anything, but I’ll ask the shop that fixes it to do so also.

Has any shop checked for any other cause for the leaks and failures, like do any tests for a possible leaking head gasket, wrong spec’ed radiator cap, or other problems causing the cooling system to become over-pressurized. This number of failures is happening for a reason.

They said it’s not likely to be the head gasket as there is no water/coolant in my oil. Radiator cap was replaced with the first radiator but was not changed for radiator #2. Not sure about other tests?

The owners manual may have some information regarding the type of coolant to use, or not to use. The coolant that went through the seal on my radiator in two years was Prestone 5/50 extended life.

Canadian Tire for example sells Antifreeze, like American shops I assume, which is claimed to be compatible with any radiator regardless of materials. Correct?

One added thought is to be sure the radiator is electrically grounded to the chassis. Electrolytic corrosion is not an unknown phenomenon with radiators.

I pulled up a link on the subject:
It’s good reading.

Checking the grounds for the engine and electrical fan is a good idea. Grounding the radiator itself might make the electrolytic corrosion worse since you don’t want current to flow through the radiator.

You’re right, of course. I should have probably refreshed my memory by reading the link before posting it…
Excuse me while I step out to perform an oral foot extraction.

Don’t feel bad. Ford issued a TSB indicating, in addition to the usual remedies for electrolysis, that grounding the heater core might be a good idea in the case of repeated heater core failure. I did not understand that advice at all since it would focus any stray current in a vulnerable, hard to service, area.

That TSB was superseded, not a short time later (years… and years…), with specific instructions NOT to ground the heater core under any circumstances.

My best advise is to find a good independent mechanic, and track down that leak. I doubt it is in the radiator. It could be a bad heater hose or a bad heater core. Many cars have lots of little coolant hoses running all over the engine bay. Any leak in any of these will cause your problems. If you can’t see it in the radiator, chances are it’s somewhere else.